Associated Press

Rapist linked to 1982 slaying
Earl Washington Jr. had been wrongfully condemned in the case
Wednesday, March 10, 2004

CHARLOTTESVILLE - A convicted rapist whose DNA matched stains found at the scene of the slaying for which Earl Washington Jr. was wrongfully condemned is identified in newly unsealed court documents.

Three weeks after then-Gov. Jim Gilmore pardoned Washington in October 2000, state police asked authorities in Albemarle County about a convicted rapist whose DNA matched stains found at the crime scene.

The rapist was identified as Kenneth Maurice Tinsley, 58, according to documents unsealed yesterday in U.S. District Court and obtained by The Associated Press.

Tinsley has not been charged in the June 4, 1982, rape and slaying of Rebecca Lynn Williams in Culpeper. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore would not comment about whether he plans to seek charges.

The unsealed documents include police reports from Detective Robert M. Matson of Albemarle, who wrote on Oct. 27, 2000, that state police Special Agent David Russillo told him that DNA evidence that had exonerated Washington matched a suspected rapist they had dealt with in November 1984.

"That suspect is Tinsley, and he is currently serving two life sentences for the crimes committed in this jurisdiction," Matson wrote.

Tinsley remains in Sussex II prison. Department of Corrections spokesman Larry Traylor said Tinsley is in "administrative segregation" and would not be available to comment.

Tinsley's identification is a victory for Washington's lawyers, who have been trying to open the investigation as part of a lawsuit against authorities who helped put Washington on death row for 9½ years.

"To this day, the defendants still insist publicly that Mr. Washington is guilty," Robert T. Hall, who represents Washington, wrote in a Dec. 19 motion that was unsealed yesterday.

"This case is as much about a public declaration of Mr. Washington's innocence as it is about deterring future police misconduct and providing him just compensation for the remainder of his life."

In a suit filed in U.S. District Court in 2002, Washington alleged that Fauquier County, Culpeper and state investigators sent him to death row when there was clear evidence that he was not guilty. News organizations, including The Times-Dispatch and The Associated Press, filed a motion for access to sealed records in the case. State police had argued that the investigation ought to be kept secret because it was still ongoing.

At a hearing last month, U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon said he did not see a reason for most of the material to be kept secret.

When asked about the recently unsealed documents, Washington's lawyers would not comment.

According to the unsealed documents, Matson wrote in October 2000 that Russillo wanted "any information about this case that we still have" and searched police archives and the county Circuit Court.

He noted that Tinsley's sole source of income was gambling and that he frequently traveled from his home in Martinsville to Northern Virginia, the District of Columbia and Atlantic City, N.J.

Matson said Tinsley probably traveled along U.S. 29, through Culpeper, as he went.

It had been 18 years since Williams was raped and stabbed to death, yet state police investigators were not in any hurry to finish the investigation, according to Matson's report.

"Russillo stressed that timeliness was not a great factor since it is a very old case and the suspect is serving two life sentences," the detective wrote on Dec. 15, 2000.

Matson no longer works at the Albemarle Police Department, and a police spokesman referred questions to the attorney general's office.

Carrie Cantrell, a spokeswoman for Kilgore, would not comment about the report because it originated from outside state police.

Washington's lawsuit claims that police took advantage of the mildly retarded farmhand in hopes of securing a quick conviction in the Williams case. The suit is pending.

While holding Washington for another crime, authorities are accused of feeding him details of the Williams slaying and convincing him to sign a pre-written confession.

Laboratory tests on crime scene evidence later excluded Washington, and state police have publicly said DNA of a convicted rapist was found on a blue blanket.

In February, prosecutor James Camblos III told U.S. Magistrate Judge B. Waugh Crigler that he did not plan to charge anyone anytime soon in Williams' death. Camblos could not be reached for comment last night.

State police and other authorities have suggested in the past that despite the DNA tests, Washington could not be excluded as an accomplice. But Cantrell said Washington "is being considered as innocent."

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